This is the first in a weekly series on sex-positive, feminist parenting from Sexual Health Educator and mommy blogger Bree Ervin.
We live in a culture of hyper-sexualization—especially of women—paired with intense slut shaming for any woman or teen girl who expresses sexual agency.
Women and girls are supposed to be sexy, but not sexual.
In addition to this strange double edged sword we put girls on, many girls are also not being educated about their bodies.
When I went to Sexual Health Educator camp to get my certification from a progressive, sex-positive, feminist organization, we got to watch the instructors give their anatomy lesson so that we could see how it was done.
We got to play pin the medically accurate words on the genitals, and then learn the ins and outs of sexual anatomy.
We learned that the male penis serves many functions, that it is a sexual organ, that it becomes aroused and enlarged during sexual activity. That when a man reaches orgasm, the male penis typically ejaculates, releasing sperm from the testicles along with seminal fluid from the seminal vesicle. We also learned that the prostate is responsible for activating the sperm “tails” and energizing them to swim.
Then we learned about the female genitals. We learned that the vagina—the inner canal—is the woman’s sexual organ. We learned that the typical vagina is 3-5 inches long, but that it can stretch, and then contract again. We learned about the uterus, the ovaries, the fallopian tubes and the cervix. We learned about menstrual cycles. We covered the vulva, the labia majora and minora, the hymen, the urethra opening, the anal opening and the vagina. There was a brief mention of the clitoris, and that it’s only function was sensation—both pleasure and pain.
There was absolutely no mention of a female orgasm, nor what purpose such a thing might serve in sex or reproduction.
The clitoris was an afterthought, and while the instructors did mention that women should communicate with their partners about what felt good and what did not, it was in the context of avoiding discomfort and pain, rather than seeking pleasure.
The female orgasm was invisible.
This happens a lot in our culture. If you ask people to define sex many will define it as, “A penis penetrating a vagina.” If you press them for how long it lasts, or how you know the act has been completed it’s, “Until the male orgasms.”
Culturally, the female orgasm is invisible, optional, not a requirement of sex. Worse, people are often told it’s too difficult to achieve, so why bother.
While the female orgasm might not be a requirement of reproduction, I would like to argue the case that it is as much a requirement for sex as the male orgasm. (Which is to say it doesn’t always happen, but it is one of the common goals of sexual interaction.)
In order to get there, we’re going to have to start working on the “Cliteracy” of our youth.
The clitoris’ only function is NOT sensation. It is more than a pleasure button. It is, in fact, larger than the average penis. The small portion that is present on the outside of a woman’s body is simply the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
A woman’s orgasm is not required for her to get pregnant, but a growing trove of studies suggest that it helps. The natural lubricant an aroused woman produces lowers the acidity of the vaginal canal, making it more friendly to sperm. In addition, there have been studies suggesting that the vaginal contractions that come with orgasm help move the semen and sperm along, aiding their journey to the egg.
The majority of women do not orgasm from vaginal intercourse alone. Most need clitoral stimulation. Therefore, women and their partners need to know where this organ is and how to operate it. Whether a couple is having sex to procreate, or purely for recreation, the goal should be for everyone involved to experience pleasure and achieve orgasm.
As we talk to our children about their bodies, from their elbows to their knees, to their toes, we need to make sure to talk about the parts in between.
This is sometimes easier to do with boys. Not only are their genitals external, but they have an excuse to touch them numerous times throughout the day. Most boys learn to pee standing up, holding their penis.
Girls often need a little more encouragement. Even the external portions of their genitals are tucked away inside their labia majora. Many girls are taught to wash themselves with a cloth, wipe with paper, use tampons with applicators. There is always a barrier between ourselves and our genitals.
Further, we are bombarded with ads that tell us they smell, otherwise why would we need perfumed feminine products? Tampon and pad commercials use a sterile blue liquid to show how much their products can hold, reminding our daughters that their menstrual blood is too gross for mainstream conversation. The overall message is that girl genitals are icky.
Is it any wonder there is an orgasm gap?
The good news is it’s an easy cycle to break.
When parents play the body part game with their children, don’t skip over the genitals. They’re normal, natural, healthy and essential body parts – just like elbows, knees and toes. (And bonus, children who know the anatomically correct words for their genitals are less likely to be targeted by pedophiles, so you’re simultaneously preparing them for a healthy and fulfilling sexual adulthood while protecting their childhood from sexual predators!)
Last, be sure to let both boys and girls know about the clitoris. It’s not just decoration. It’s an essential part of a woman’s sexual anatomy. If she knows how to use it, she’ll be able to help her future partners learn her rhythms and desires.
“A is for anus.
B is for breasts.
C is for clitoris.”
When a girl touches herself, parents can validate her and remind her of time and place, much the same way parents of boys do. “Honey, I know that feels good, but the dinner table isn’t the appropriate place.”
Lastly: remember to talk to girls about sexual pleasure, masturbation, and orgasms. With all the pressure to “Just say no!” we have forgotten how to empower our youth to explore their own desires and discover the joys of their own bodies.